399. We Were Soldiers Once.... And Young
by Lt Gen Harold G Moore and Joseph L Galloway
This book inspired a not-half-bad film starring Mel Gibson. Films are always, or nearly always, more superficial than books. This book is both monumental and a monument in itself. Hundreds of former members of the 1st US Air Cavalry Division were interviewed about the desperate fighting in Vietnam's Ia Drang Valley in November 1965. Most do not pull any punches and the book must rate as one of the most honest and visceral accounts of combat to have appeared on either side of the Atlantic in recent years. The film ends with Mel Gibson and his men from the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry being airlifted by helicopter from the battlefield. The book adds the story of what happened when their replacements from the regiment's 2nd Battalion were attacked as they marched to another helicopter landing zone nearby and came close to being wiped out. The book stops short of pointing the finger of blame for the almost disaster but it is not too hard to read between the lines. This book is a smooth read but also achieves its aim of standing as a monument to the American men who fought in the Ia Drang Valley. It also makes an attempt at recognising the courage and skill of the mainly North Vietnamese troops the Air Cavalry fought against. There was some input into the book from senior Vietnamese officers but it lacks the perspective of the peasant soldier wielding an AK-47 in the face of American machine guns, mortars, artillery, rockets and napalm. This is perhaps too much to ask and would have led to book that would have been so massive that no-one could reasonably be expected to get through it.
398. Aces Falling - War Above the Trenches, 1918
by Peter Hart
This is yet another fine book from Imperial War Museum sound archivist Peter Hart. As with many of his best books, this one leans heavily on transcripts of the interviews with veterans. This time he looks at aerial warfare on the Western Front during the final year of the First World War. Hart deftly knits the veterans' memories in with his own analysis of events, letters, diaries and even books by some of the air crew. As with his previous book on the war in the skies in April 1917, Hart points out that not everyone could be an ace fighter pilot. Although some aces do feature, Manfred von Richthoven, James McCudden and Edward Mannock for example, many of those appearing in the book were involved in straffing ground troops, spotting for artillery batteries, downing enemy observation balloons or bombing bridges and air fields. Hart has picked the first-hand experience extracts well and they make for a compelling picture of what it was like to fight in the sky in what would now be regarded as incredibly flimsy flying machines. The air crew in this book come in many shapes and sizes, from the stone-cold but eagle-eyed pilots of the German scouts to very naive teenagers struggling to stay alive in the swirling dogfights above the fields of France and Belgium. Some of the crew share their survival tips. Several are endearingly candid about their fear. This is a good read.
397. The Guns 1939-45
by Ian V Hogg
This is another entry in the Purnell's Illustrated History of the Second World War series and as per usual is well illustrated with drawings and photographs. The book was copyrighted in 1970 and once again as usual with the series, known as Ballantines Illustated Histoy of World War II in the USA, is written by a subject expert from that era. In this case Purnell snagged one of the best known and most prolific British writers on matters of gunnery, Ian Hogg. Hogg was good writer and as one of the British Army's most senior artillerymen knew his stuff. But personally I found the book a little too technical for my taste. This was despite Hogg doing his best to dumb things down. He adds in some interesting anecdotes and insights of his own and as I said, he certainly knows his subject matter. But this one I can guarantee is not in the running for the 2017 Book of the Year. It's interesting in its own way but not gripping.
An article I wrote about the 1918 Armistice Day battle against the Bolsheviks in Northern Russia has been published in the Spring/Summer edition of Dorchester Review. It’s a companion piece to “Archangel” but focuses on the role of the 67th Battery of the Canadian Field Artillery rather than the 2/10th Royal Scots. The new article is called - Canada’s Winter War
The Defenceless Border
The Canadian - United States border is said to be the longest undefended frontier in the world. The latest Dorchester Review, Canada's best history magazine, carries an article I wrote about a time when though American invasion seemed highly likely, Scottish troops found themselves with useless rifles in their hands. The article is called Undefended Border
The September/October edition of History Scotland magazine included a two page article I wrote looking at who really captured a French general in 1808 and why the credit might have been given to another member of the Highland Light Infantry. The official version of General Brennier's capture by the HLI at Vimeiro has gone down in British Army legend, "We are soldiers, Sir, not plunderers", but what ordinary members of the regiment had to say, or did not say, about the episode paints a less flattering picture of it and its aftermath. As the November/December issue is now available, here is the article The Real Mackay?
Pension Misery Highlighted
The Dorchester Review , a leading Canadian magazine when it comes to history, is carrying an article I wrote about British Army pensioners, many who served under the Duke of Wellington's command, who were caught up in a disastrous scheme which involved them giving up their pension entitlement in exchange for land in the British Colonies or United States. I became interested in what happened to the so-called Commuted Pensioners after realizing one of the main suspects as a contributor to Vicissitudes in the Life of a Scottish Soldier had been lured to Canada under the scheme.
The latest edition of Canada's Dorchester Review features not one but two articles from Paul - Churchill in the Trenches and Drug Store Commandos. The first link takes you to an extended version of the article which appeared in the DR about Winston Churchill's time in command of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on Western Front while the second is an article about the Lovat Scouts training in the Canadian Rockies as mountain warfare specialists.
Canadian Connection with With Wellington in the Peninsula?
The British Canadian newspaper ran an article in its May edition about a possible connection between one of the soldiers in my new book With Wellington in the Peninsula and a disastrous government scheme to settle ex-soldiers in Canada while depriving them of their pensions.
Irish Terrorism in Canada
In between working on a major project, I wrote another article for the Dorchester Review here in Canada. The attempt by terrorists to destroy a Canadian canal lock in 1900 is often dismissed as being the work of bunglers. But a closer look reveals a tale of murder and links successful bombing of the House of Commons more than a decade earlier. Few seem to know that one of the gang was found dead with a bullet through his heart. Attempts by US politicians, including President William Taft, to persuade the Canadian authorities to release the terrorists is better known. Dynamite Dillon
Also see - Dorchester Review
Scottish Military Disasters has been launched as an e-book. And it’s been improved.
Preparing the book in e-book format offered the chance to correct some minor errors.
“I wouldn’t say it’s worth someone who has the print version going out and buying the e-book,” said author Paul Cowan.
“But in preparing the e-book we’ve corrected a couple of little irritating misprints and one mistake that probably only annoys me and a couple of my relatives.”
The book is one of the first from the Neil Wilson Publishing catalogue to be released as an e-book.
“Neil’s stable of authors includes such giants as Nigel Tranter, so this is a real honour for me,” said Cowan.
“This will make the book far more accessible to readers in Scotland and around the World – and also in certain countries far more affordable.
“I’ve found where it is reasonably priced overseas, it’s been selling like hotcakes.”
Glasgow-based Neil Wilson said the move into e-books was as a result of public demand.
Wilson teamed up with the respected e-book team at the Faber Factory for the conversion to the new format which will make Scottish Military Disasters available on a variety of devices, including most e-readers and mobile phones.
“We will also go online with Apple soon,” he added.
For details of how to buy the e-book version –
The debate over whether Scotland produces some of the finest fighting men in the World could go on for ever. What is certain is that pride in the military is woven into the Scottish psyche and that that pride has been ruthlessly exploited by the British Establishment.
In the popular imagination the Scottish soldier is a kilted infantryman. The infantry are the men who go through the meat grinder in almost every war and Scotland has provided the British Empire with more than its fair share of infantry. In the fighting after D-Day in 1944 a British study suggested that although the infantry made up only 25% of the troops involved; they suffered 71% of the casualties.
(While I can’t put my hand on my heart and say my research for Scottish Military Disasters points to the Scots having the worse military record in Europe, for most of recorded history it hasn’t been very spectacular. People remember Bannockburn because it is one of the few battles against the English that the Scots won. Even when the English were heavily outnumbered, at battles such as Flodden in 1513 and Dunbar in 1650, they still managed to win. Many English, and Irish and Welsh soldiers for that matter, regard their Scots counterparts as a bunch of blowhards who write cheques with their mouths that their battlefield performance fail to honour. The counter-argument goes that the Scots go that extra mile to back up their boasting.)
But where does this Scottish martial pride which encouraged so many young Scots into the infantry during two world wars come from?